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Is Nespresso Real Espresso?
Written by: Garrett Oden
Nespresso has been popular in Europe for several years, but it’s really just starting to find its place in North America. This emergence of Nespresso has caused us to get asked this question a lot: is Nespresso real espresso?
Not exactly. Does that mean you should write it off? Also… not exactly.
Nespresso certainly has its place (maybe even a bigger place in homes than espresso machines), but to really know if you should buy a Nespresso machine or a home espresso machine, you need to understand how they are different.
And they are quite different.
There are a number of official definitions, but here’s how we like to describe espresso:
A shot of espresso is a concentrated form of coffee created by forcing hot water through super-fine coffee grounds at 7-10 atmospheres of pressure.
Under this definition, Nespresso shots might be espresso if the machine can generate enough pressure. However, most definitions, including those of the SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) and the INEI (Italian National Espresso Institute), do not allow room for any capsule-based machine—especially one as small and hands-off as Nespresso.
How Espresso Machines Work
Espresso machine brewing involves packing super-fine coffee grounds into a portafilter, attaching that portafilter to a heavy-duty machine, and forcing hot water through the coffee grounds at around 9 bars of pressure.
This process is complicated and often frustrating because you have to control a bunch of variables all at once.
- Grind Size — Tiny adjustments (so small you can’t even see the difference) in grind size can have big impacts on the shot flavor. Precision and consistency are non-negotiables.
- Tamping — You have to press down on the grounds with just the right pressure over and over again to get consistent shots. And if you’re just slightly uneven, you’ll hurt the shot flavor.
Read: The Ultimate Guide To Espresso
- Shot Timing — Somewhere between 25 and 40 seconds is the ideal shot length. Every one second makes a difference, and it’s up to you to find the right time.
And small, unintended changes to any of these three elements impacts the other two, which leads to big changes in flavor. Like I said, it can be frustrating.
How Nespresso Works
The process for making a shot of Nespresso is simpler… a lot simpler.
You pop the capsule into the device, press the button on the machine, and watch the magic happen. Nespresso claims that all their machines can achieve up to 15 bars of pressure (which is more than is necessary and characteristic of lower-end home devices), giving the concentrated shot a fine crema.
There’s no “dialing in” required. It’s fast, simple, and consistent. In the eyes of more snobbish coffee lovers (including myself, to be honest), this simplicity and the use of pre-ground coffee automatically makes Nespresso coffee a lower form of espresso, but that’s not to say it isn’t useful or that it tastes bad.
Read: 5 Ways To Make Your Coffee More Eco-Friendly
What About Flavor?
Espresso is full-bodied, full-flavored, has rich aromas, and has a bright acidic punch. It’s intense, complex, and fascinating.
Nespresso shots tend to have a medium body, a rich flavor, adequate aromas, and a minor acidity. Compared to a shot of espresso from a commercial machine, it’s a little less intense and flavorful. Compared to your regular cup of black coffee, it’s certainly stronger and more intense.
For people who enjoy cafe-quality espresso, Nespresso shots may not satisfy. Professional baristas typically find Nespresso coffee is closer to that of a moka pot than a big commercial espresso machine.
Read: Learn How To Taste Coffee
For the average coffee lover who doesn’t drink a ton of espresso at cafes, however, Nespresso can really be a great thing, even if it’s not quite as intense or complex as cafe espresso. It’s still flavorful, it’s still balanced, and it can even be fairly complex if the beans used were from a quality-focused farm and roaster.
Nespresso VS Espresso For Home Brewing
Nespresso being different from espresso doesn’t mean you should not consider it for your home. In fact, I typically suggest people avoid home espresso machines for their complexity and learning curve, but Nespresso is easy enough for anyone.
While I enjoy a rich, balanced shot of espresso more than a shot of Nespresso, you won’t find an espresso machine in my house—but I’m not completely against buying a Nespresso machine.
Read: 3 Reasons Buying Cheap Coffee Is Bad For The World
Espresso machines take a long time to warm up. Once warmed, you have to grind coffee, tamp the grounds, and pull a shot. Chances are that shot’s not nearly as delicious as it could be (because the first shot never is—even for the pros at cafes). So you make a small grind setting adjustment, grind more coffee, tamp, pull a shot, and taste it.
Then you have to wipe down the portafilter and group head, turn off the grinder, and turn off the machine. It’s a pretty long process—at least it is if you have a pretty high standard for espresso.
Nespresso, on the other hand, is just so easy. And since the machines are pretty well tailored for the pods, you don’t have to do any “dialing in”. The machine warms up in a minute or two, pulls a consistent shot for you, and then it’s done. You can even buy eco-friendly pods that are compostable (and you should).
Read: Why You Need To Be Drinking Coffee Black (And How To Start)
Chances are your average Nespresso shot will be tastier than your average espresso shot if you’re not super detail-oriented and willing to put in the work to pull stellar shots.
No, I honestly don’t think Nespresso shots are as good or ‘real’ as shots from an espresso machine, but they’re a lot more viable in a home setting.
And that’s coming from a coffee professional and former barista trainer.
I love great espresso. I appreciate the simplicity and consistency of Nespresso. Though, frankly, I’ll probably just stick to pour over coffee routine.
If you decide to take on the challenge and seek the rewards of stellar home espresso, I highly encourage you to start with specialty-grade, freshly roasted coffee beans. If you’re just going to use low-grade, stale beans from the supermarket, you may as well just get a Nespresso machine.
We’ll help you stay stocked with great beans that are stellar for espresso brewing via our Coffee Club. Every other week you’ll get a bag of coffee from one of the world’s best coffee farms, and it’ll have been roasted the same day it was shipped.
There’s no better way to set yourself up for espresso success than to start with beans like these. Check out the Club for yourself!